The four day Trump-a-thon, sometimes noted as the Republican National Convention, ended this week in Cleveland, with the Republican party still divided and Donald Trump’s ego inflated larger than a Macy’s parade balloon. Trump was all over the convention hall, the hotels, and in the media, chatting, arguing, scowling, and boasting. It was Trump’s convention, and he knew it.
Trump had begun his run for the nomination with a simple but powerful campaign theme, “Make America Great Again,” refusing to accept the reality that most countries see the United States as the world’s most powerful country and its president is one of the world’s most respected leaders. Slipping into the campaign, promoted by the Tea Party wing, is a plea to “Take Our Country Back.” Back to what? To the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s and the House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunts of the 1950s? To the worst recession since the Great Depression that had begun in 1929? To the race riots of the late 1960s? The two slogans, appearing on almost every piece of campaign memorabilia, are part of what “communicologists” call “branding.”
In his run to make America great, Trump used vulgar language to ridicule a Fox News female anchor, questioned the integrity of a judge who has Mexican parents, mocked a disabled reporter, declared he would build a wall on the U.S./Mexican border and require Mexico to pay for it, demanded that the U.S. block the entry of anyone who is a Muslim, declared if he was president he would abolish Obamacare, claimed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was no hero for enduring almost seven years in a Vietnamese prison camp, boldly stated he would be able to destroy ISIS, demanded that his potential vice-president candidates submit 10 years of tax returns while he refused to release any of his own financial reports, and juggled the facts worse than any circus clown with grease on his hands.
State after state, Trump energized the disgruntled and disillusioned who believed they were ignored by the leadership of their party and who opposed just about anything the Obama administration tried to do. He got sustained applause when he attacked the “lyin’ lib’ral media,” but was adept at using the media to get his message to the conservative wing of the party. His speeches and constant Twitter messages established him not as a savior of Republican values, but as a populist demagogue. However, his greatest trick was to convince Republican voters that a billionaire real estate tycoon who had a small fleet of airplanes and boats, who once was a Democrat, and who once praised Hillary Clinton, was an outsider who could relate to them.
In December, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) condemned Trump for his bigotry—which was embraced by several million Americans who had given him the nomination. “It’s not who we are as a people or a country,” said Ryan, who now in the convention gave Trump his endorsement. Ironically, while the conservative base refuses to accept LGBTQ individuals and condemns same-sex marriage, Trump has repeatedly said they have civil rights that must be acknowledged. There is just enough in Trump’s political beliefs to entice moderates and even liberals.
On the first day of the convention, long after Trump had secured enough votes to be the party’s nominee, the Colorado delegation, which supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), walked out, showing disrespect for the leadership that wasn’t open to modifying party rules.
Boycotting the convention were several prominent Republican leaders, including six governors and 21 senators, as well as former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Sen. McCain, the party’s nominee in 2008, and Mitt Romney, the party’s nominee in 2012, none of whom were pleased that Trump would be the 2016 standard bearer.
Also missing was Ohio Gov. John Kasich. About one-fifth of the Ohio delegation told the Columbus Dispatch they would not vote for Trump under any condition; about two-fifths of the Ohio delegation said they would not campaign for him. About 85 percent said Trump—who has been married three times, who has committed adultery, whose profanity-laced rhetoric and outrageous comments about other Republicans in the primary race—was not the best choice to lead the self-proclaimed “family values” party into the November general election. To blunt those who wanted their candidate to reflect the family values that pervaded 1950s TV shows, Trump constantly praised his wife and children, something necessary to establish the nominee as a family member and keep any more delegates from defecting.
The division became more hostile on the third night of the convention when Cruz, the last of a field of 17 major Republican candidates to seek the Republicans’ nomination, and a strong supporter of Tea Party politics, didn’t endorse Trump and asked the nation to “vote your conscience.” His declaration of separation was greeted by cheers, boos, and phrases that aren’t usually published or aired by establishment media.
The prime-time speeches were short on substance and heavy with hyperbolic rhetoric, filled with fear-mongering and jingoistic appeals to a conservative base that is largely middle-class whites. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) summed up much of the Republican grassroots base when he claimed whites contributed more to civilization than any other group.
Melania Trump’s first night speech was so well delivered that the speech writer resigned. The Trumps refused to accept her resignation, however, saying that all people make innocent mistakes. Her mistake, as reported by almost every reporter at the convention, was that she copied a few sentences from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic convention. Trump spent almost two days denying plagiarism charges before acknowledging the problem.
Most of the speakers, possibly lining up to get cabinet appointments and ambassadorships in a Trump presidency, reflected Trump’s views of society. They
touted his business acumen as an indicator he would be far superior than anyone else in dealing with the economy, even though most economists from all political perspectives have debunked Trump’s economic plan, which would add about $30–35 trillion to the national debt, and would rival the recession of the last two years of the George W. Bush presidency. The convention speakers didn’t mention anything about Trump’s four bankruptcies, his proposal to give additional tax breaks to millionaires and corporations, or lawsuits filed by individuals and the state of New York against Trump for illegal business practices and for defrauding students who enrolled in Trump University, which was neither accredited nor gave college credits.
The speakers, facing TV audiences that varied from 20 to 30 million viewers, praised Trump’s philosophy that a livable wage of $15 an hour is too much for businesses to survive, and that a low minimum wage is desirable. They didn’t mention that during the primary campaign Trump pushed for American-made products while he outsourced much of his Trump-named products to countries where 12-hour working days, unsafe work places, and low wages are common. To thunderous applause, they did mention that Trump would curb the power of unions, something that the candidate has already done with many of his properties where workers don’t have unions to protect them.
Conservatives emphasized that they, and they alone, are patriotic Americans. For those on the far-right of the political spectrum, being a patriot to conservatives means being willing to spend more than half of the nation’s budget on defense and having the power to send youth to fight wars half a hemisphere away. It doesn’t align with Dwight Eisenhower’s philosophy that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
The conservative movement, represented by 2,472 delegates claimed they, and they alone, could be entrusted to defend the Constitution, although the part they know seems to be confined to nuzzling up to the NRA and the 2nd Amendment, and defending a non-existent right to own every kind of weapon short of a nuclear bomb, but were pleasantly secure within a gun-free zone that surrounded their convention.
They frequently declared they, and they alone, would be the ones best able to lower crime, disregarding numerous studies that show a decline in crime during the the Obama administration.
They also believe in creationism, question the theory of evolution, believe that merging religion and the state is acceptable, and Planned Parenthood isn’t. They oppose abortion, even if it’s to preserve a mother’s life, and then devote millions of dollars to oppose programs that help low-income families.
Climate change is a liberal myth say a solid minority of delegates. Fracking is good and would make the U.S. energy-independent, they claim, skating around the facts that oil and gas corporations, which accept more than $20 billion in taxpayer subsidies a year, are exporting oil and natural gas. Fossil fuel is the past, present, and future, they claim, blindly ignoring the reality that there are more jobs in the renewable energy industry than in fossil fuels, and that most nations, especially those in the Middle East oil-exporting countries, are significantly increasing the use of solar and wind energy.
They believe in private schools, private retirement plans, and want to sell off public land. They want to “reign in” the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, which they see as having too much regulatory power, apparently believing that oil and gas and food and pharmaceutical corporations will do what’s best for the consumer and not what’s best for the stockholders.
Throughout the convention, the delegates and speakers unleashed their venom on Hillary Rodham Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, calling her evil, corrupt, a liar, and someone who should be in prison. Many delegates compared her to Satan. Licking County (Ohio) Commissioner Duane Flowers said Clinton “should be hanging from a tree.” Clinton, said Al Baldasaro, a senior Trump advisor and a delegate from New Hampshire, “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” Their statements reflected the far-right demeanor that has been guiding the party.
Donald Trump, who can be charming, and who delivered a brilliant and presidential-like 76-minute final convention speech, seldom smiles, his demeanor noted by his lips, which are constantly frowning or sneering, reflecting his party’s campaign strategy of bar-room profanity-laced anger rather than substance. He is the face of what the Republican party has become.
[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and university professor, has covered politics and government for more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]